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Whitt Patrick Pond "Whitt" RSS Feed (Cambridge, MA United States)

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Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Ginger Cookie,8 Ounce
Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Ginger Cookie,8 Ounce

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sadly disappointing, August 19, 2014
I decided to try these because I liked Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Almond Cookies, but I have to say I found Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Ginger Cookies more than a little disappointing. It's hard to believe that they're made by the same people. The cookies are dry as dust and almost tasteless, and what taste there is comes as more of an aftertaste, one distinctly _not_ reminiscent of ginger. About the only positive thing I can say about them is that they did not raise my blood sugar (I'm diabetic). I still like the Oats & Almond cookies, but I will not be re-ordering these. Not recommended.

Wish I Was Here (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
Wish I Was Here (Blu-ray + DVD + DIGITAL HD with UltraViolet)
Price: $31.48

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes a crisis brings clarity, and ultimately wisdom and joy, August 16, 2014
Some films defy easy categorization. Wish I Was Here, directed by Zach Braff from a screenplay by Zach Braff and brother Adam J. Braff, is one of those films. On the surface it's a comedy, but under the surface it deals with a lot of serious issues that almost everyone has to deal with in their lives: family, identity, careers, fears, dreams and dealing with the choices we - and those we love - make in life.

Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is an aspiring actor, at 35 years old still struggling to get established. He's married with two kids, but despite his lack of success life isn't that bad as his wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) supports the family with her job and his father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin) is paying for the kids' schooling at a private orthodox Jewish school. Or it wasn't that bad until Gabe's cancer suddenly takes a turn for the terminal worse and he can no longer pay for the kids' tuition, forcing Aidan to suddenly have to deal with, well, his entire life and who he is, as a son, as a husband, as a father, and as a person.

We quickly begin to see that Aidan, however genial and well-meaning he is on the surface, has been less than stellar in any of those aspects of his life. The woefully neglected back yard and pool we see behind his house serves as a visual metaphor for his life. When Gabe chides Aidan for letting Sarah support the family while he pursues his fruitless acting career, Aidan defensively protests that Sarah is "living her dream" in her job. Whereupon the film cuts to Sarah, working as a harried number cruncher for the LA Water Department where she has to share an office with a boorish and grossly sexually inappropriate co-worker, a job she cannot quit because she is the sole bread-winner in the family. Aidan's willful obliviousness is further nailed when Sarah pushes him to get some kind of job to pay for the kids' tuition and he protests "What about following my dream?" To which an exasperated Sarah asks "When did this relationship become solely about supporting _your_ dream?"

What works best in Wish I Was Here is that there are no magical Hollywood solutions to any of the family's problems. Aidan's attempts to deal with the various situations facing him are, in the beginning at least, as inept as they are rooted in self-centered denial. But he does try, and in the end sometimes it's the attempt that matters. Sometimes, in spite of ourselves, we stumble towards a kind of wisdom that, even if it doesn't completely solve our problems, makes them bearable, and we can discover possibilities that we didn't know were there.

Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 17, 2014 9:23 PM PDT

The Lunchbox Hindi DVD (Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur) (Bollywood/Film/2014 Movie)
The Lunchbox Hindi DVD (Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur) (Bollywood/Film/2014 Movie)
DVD ~ Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui | Irrfan Khan
Offered by saanjhi
Price: $16.95
15 used & new from $9.38

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Sometimes the wrong train will take you to the right destination.", July 27, 2014
Written and directed by Ritesh Batra, The Lunchbox (Hindi title "Dabba") is a wonderfully intimate film about two lonely people whose disparate lives are accidentally connected by the mis-delivery of a lunchbox. In the hands of a lesser director, it would've probably been merely a light romantic comedy. But in Batra's very talented hands, The Lunchbox is much, much more than that, bringing us deeply into the characters' lives and showing how sometimes it's the smallest things that can make the biggest difference.

Saajan Fernandes (marvelously played by Irrfan Khan) is a lonely accountant working in the claims department of a company in Mumbai. Middle-aged and approaching retirement, he exists more than he lives, having lost any feeling for anyone or anything since the death of his wife some years earlier. Ila (Nimrat Kaur in an equally marvelous performance) is a lonely young wife/mother who lives with her young daughter and emotionally distant husband in an apartment in Mumbai. Her only real human contact comes from her upstairs neighbor, an older woman, "Auntie" Deshpande (Bharati Achrekar), whom we never actually see but who carries on conversations with her through their open windows, chatting about their daily lives and giving advice about cooking. Wanting desperately to revive some sense of connection with her cold and indifferent husband, Ila tries to prepare special lunches for him, hoping as the old saying goes, to find a way to his heart through his stomach.

A chance of fate intervenes when Ila's specially prepared lunch mistakenly ends up being delivered to Saajan's office instead of her husband's. Although Saajan notices that something seems different about his lunch, he gives the matter little thought. He does, however, eat all of it, finding it quite delicious, and so when the lunchbox is returned to Ila that afternoon, she is surprised and delighted to find it completely empty, thinking that her husband must have enjoyed it for once. But when he comes home, he is just as cold and indifferent as ever, and only when she asks about it does he say anything, mentioning that the cauliflower was okay. Which tells her that something is amiss since the lunch she prepared didn't have any cauliflower. The next day, she prepares another lunch, this time sending it off with a note inside, telling whoever the lunch gets delivered to that he must've gotten the lunch she had prepared for her husband by mistake, but that she appreciated the fact that he had clearly enjoyed it, judging by the empty returns, and that it made her feel appreciated, if only for a little while. Reading the note, Saajan is hesitant at first, but afterwards sends back a note that that day's lunch was a bit salty. Which prompts Ila to fix something spicy for the next lunch - with a new note. Which prompts Saajan to send back a note about his having to eat a banana to dampen the heat in his mouth from the spice, mentioning off-handedly that he sees that so many people have nothing but a banana for their lunch. Gradually a correspondence between them builds as they share their observations, their thoughts and eventually their feelings, he about missing the life he had with his wife, she about the life she doesn't have with her husband.

There are a number of side-plots occurring in the film, foremost of which are Saajan's having to train an overly eager new-hire Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) as his replacement, Ila's having to deal with her father having terminal cancer and her mother's having to take care of him, and Auntie Deshpande's husband who's been in a coma for years. The real importance of these sub-plots is that through them we see how Saajan and Ila are both starting to see the world around them with new eyes, both of them coming alive again, their perspectives changing as a direct result of their chance correspondence. It is to writer/director Batra's immense credit that he imbues his film with a great deal of subtlety, little things like the sound of a particular song, the visual of a ceiling fan, the news of a random tragedy, each seen and reacted to by Saajan and Ila in their separate lives but making the point that they're both in the same world.

Another small but delightful detail is how Batra portrays Auntie Deshpande's character. You never actually see Ila's chatty upstairs neighbor though you hear her voice, hear her changing the music and looking through drawers for things. But you do see this basket she lowers to share cooking ingredients with Ila, and through the way Batra has the basket bob and weave, he gives the audience a visual feel for Auntie Deshpande's personality. I've never seen a dangling basket that manages to coax, tease, and nudge the way this one did in the film. An extraordinarily nice touch.

Important note: if you're not from India or familiar with the dabbawala system of lunchbox deliveries, I strongly suggest either googling it or looking it up on Wikipedia (from which I derived much of the following description) as it is important to fully understanding the film. It is also something of a fascinating subject in its own right. Started in Mumbai back in 1890, the dabbawala system is a complex, highly organized and remarkably reliable delivery system that collects hot food in lunch boxes (or "dabbas") from the residences of workers in the late morning, delivers the lunches to the workplace utilizing various modes of transport, predominantly bicycles and the railway trains, and returns the empty boxes back to the customer's residence that afternoon. They are also made use of by prominent meal suppliers in Mumbai where they ferry ready, cooked meals from central kitchens to the customers and back. The workers who handle the deliveries are "dabbawalas". What is also important to understand is that the chances of a lunchbox being delivered to the wrong place are on the order of once in every eight _million_ deliveries. Which is what makes the key event in "The Lunchbox" such a remarkable oddity.

In truth I only have two criticisms about the film. The first is strictly a technical one. Being an English speaker, I'm dependent on the sub-titles in films to follow what's going on, and I found that the choice of sub-title format in The Lunchbox often made them difficult to read, being very light text against what was frequently a light background. The other was what I felt was a loss of focus and pacing in the latter part of the film which made it a bit harder to follow what was going on and also felt less intimate than what came before it.

But that aside, The Lunchbox is truly something worth seeing, engaging you in a way that too few films ever do and prompting us to think about our own lives and about what really matters to us.

Highly recommended.

Guardians of the Galaxy [Blu-ray]
Guardians of the Galaxy [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Chris Pratt

23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There ain't no thing like this movie, 'cept this movie! (No spoilers except for those revealed in the various trailers), July 25, 2014
Directed by James Gunn (Super, Movie 43), from a screenplay by Gunn (Tromeo & Juliet, Scooby-Doo, Dawn of the Dead) and Nicole Perlman, based on the Marvel Commics characters created by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, Guardians of the Galaxy is one of the most fun movies to come out this summer. A lot of time, thought and talent - and sheer craftsmanship - went into making this film and it really shows.

The first thing I should say, since Guardians of the Galaxy is not one of the better known Marvel comics, is that you don't need to have read the comics to enjoy or understand the movie. The story starts you from zero, introducing the characters with their own individual backgrounds and personalities. In some ways you may actually be better off not having read the comics as some details about the characters have been changed, both to make for a smoother, more coherent story line, and to make it fit into the broader storyline laid out in the other recent Marvel films (The Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, etc) that have come before. A couple of characters from The Avengers storyline make appearances here, tying the two together, but most of the characters in Guardians of the Galaxy will be completely new to movie-goers.

The way to think of this is, in The Avengers things are told from an Earth-centric point of view where space is still very much an out-there unknown, while in Guardians of the Galaxy things are told from the rest-of-the-universe point of view where the Earth is not only not a player, we're not even aware that there's a game. Not yet, anyway.

Enter Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) aka Starlord, a human with a highly unusual past, some of which is revealed in the film's opening sequence, who finds himself a much-wanted - and hunted - man after he steals a mysterious object called The Orb, not realizing its true nature. Or value to a number of people, most specifically an extremely dark character named Ronan (Lee Pace) who will do anything to get his hands on the Orb for reasons that bode extremely ill for everyone else. After falling afoul of a cyber-genetically enhanced Korath the Pursuer (Djimon Hounsou), his former mentor Yondu (Michael Rooker) who leads an alien gang called the Ravagers and who practically raised him, and a deadly green-skinned assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Quill finds himself in prison along with the assorted interstellar miscreants who will form the Guardians of the Galaxy:

Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) - A sentient, genetically-engineered raccoon with enough attitude for an entire planet and a fondness for big guns, fast ships and money. And rather frequently, mayhem. He is also a genius at almost every kind of engineering and at coming up with quick-reaction tactics for dealing with tense situations.

Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) - A sentient (if not particularly sharp) tree-like creature who communicates through a thousand varied inflections of the phrase "I am Groot" and is actually quite innocent and sweet... until he's called on to provide the muscle to back up one of Rocket's plans and turns into a raging arboreal juggernaut.

Gamorra (Zoe Saldana) - A green-skinned woman, surgically enhanced to be swift and deadly in a fight, trained as one of the most skilled assassins known to anyone by one of the most dangerous forces in the galaxy. Whom she may or may not be working for as she keeps her cards well hidden and has good reason to be slow to trust.

Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) - A deadly - and dead serious - berserker of a man, obsessed with revenge against the man who murdered his family but quite willing to take on anyone who crosses his path before that happens. And who takes everything he sees and hears absolutely literally, leaving him frequently in the dark as to what's actually being said.

And of course Quill himself (Chris Pratt), a classic anti-hero of the Han Solo / Bart Maverick mold - "something good, something bad... a bit of both" - who relies on his wits to get himself out of trouble and would rather try to talk his way out of a situation than have to fight his way out. Which he still ends up doing half the time because he's not as good a talker as he likes to think he is.

It would be a spoiler to reveal how Quill, Gamora, Rocket and Groot come to meet, especially because it's such a marvelous piling on of encounters and cross-purposes, each one raising the stakes and causing greater complications, until the four finally end up in prison. It is there that they begin to bond in a series of incidents that culminate in the formation of an escape plan... which quickly goes wrong in an outrageously funny way, sees Drax unexpectedly drawn into the circle, and sends the Guardians back out into space and the action into high gear. What follows is the Guardians finding out just what the Orb is, who's after it and why, and that whether they want it or not, the fate of the galaxy now lies in their hands.

A lot of what makes Guardians of the Galaxy work is the interactions among the characters, which manages to be extremely funny without descending into mere slapstick, but has these moments of pure heart giving the characters that extra bit of depth that makes you genuinely care about them. Which of course comes from the combination of very talented performances the actors give and the great dialogue they're given by the screenplay. It's really hard to fully credit just how outstanding the entire cast is. There's no single scene stealer among the Guardians because they're _all_ superb scene stealers, as are a number of the supporting cast, most notably John C. Reilly as Rhomann Dey and Peter Serafinowicz as Denarian Saal , a pair of dryly observant Nova Corps officers, and Glenn Close as Nova Prime Irani Rael, who reluctantly decides that the fate of the Galaxy must depend on the highly dubious Guardians. (Note: who and what Nova Corps is is best left to be explained by the film). Rivaling Gamora for sheer deadly kick-assery is Nebula (Karen Gillan), a highly sadistic blue-skinned skin-head mercenary with a surprising connection. And of course Benecio del Toro as the enigmatic Collector whom we get our first fully-fleshed out look at and who provides one of the linking elements to The Avengers storyline.

Particular credit should be given both to screenwriters Gunn and Perlman for the marvelous dialogue and to the cast for their equally marvelous deliveries. I was particularly impressed by how they managed to convey Groot's ever-recurring "I am Groot" as having subtleties that actually carried meaning. This exchange from a scene in the trailers is a perfect example:

Quill: "I have a plan."
Rocket: "You've got a plan?"
Quill: "I have... part of a plan."
Drax: "What percentage of a plan?"
Quill: "I don't know... 12 percent."
Rocket [skeptical]: "12 percent."
[starts laughing]
Quill [indignant]: "That's a fake laugh!"
Rocket [snarling]: "It's real!"
Quill: "Totally fake"
Rocket: "That is the most real, authentic, hysterical laugh of my entire life because _that_ is not a plan."
Groot [turning to Rocket and sounding like he's making a point]: "I _am_ Groot."
Rocket [responding to Groot]: "So what if it's better than 11 percent? What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

It's the way that Vin Diesel gives nuanced inflection to the way he says the words that makes it clear that Groot _is_ actually saying something. And that Rocket actually understands what he's saying, even if no one else does, though as the film goes on it seems like some of the other begin to.

The CGI is spectacular throughout, particularly in bringing Rocket to life visually, making him at once both anthropomorphic and yet still very much a raccoon-based life form. Combined with Bradley Cooper's spot-on delivery of Rocket's dialogue, the whole creation is indeed more than the sum of his parts. The same is true for Groot and Vin Diesel's delivery, though Groot is merely amazing while Rocket is just plain awesome, especially in the action scenes.

Also, the music is extremely well done, with both an original film score by Tyler Bates (300, The Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead), and the various rock songs from the 60's and 70's you hear in the trailers actually do appear in the film and are in fact an important part of Quill's past, a very moving part. On a side note, Bates himself appears in a cameo role, as does Stan Lee (of course) and a number of other individuals.

All in all, this really is a marvelous film, space opera at its very best. And it's an enormous amount of fun, the kind of film that you can watch over and over again and will probably end up setting the standard for others that follow.

Highly, highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 5, 2014 3:33 PM PDT

Mayan Caveman Cookies
Mayan Caveman Cookies
Offered by Caveman Bakery
Price: $5.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Definitely an acquired taste, July 20, 2014
This review is from: Mayan Caveman Cookies (Misc.)
My reaction to the Mayan Caveman Cookies is somewhat mixed. On the plus side, they didn't raise my blood sugar (I'm diabetic so this is important) which was good. The packaging is remarkable, with each cookie individually sealed to preserve freshness, and as a result each cookie had a nice chewy texture which I liked. But that said, the taste is definitely what I'd call an acquired one. It wasn't bad exactly, but it was strange, and the weirdest thing was that - to me anyway - they tasted worse when eaten with milk than when eaten just by themselves. I've never had a cookie before that did not go well with milk, but that was the case with these. All in all, I don't think I'll be re-ordering them, at least not this particular Caveman cookie, but I'd be more than willing to give the other Caveman cookies a try.

DVD ~ Jon Favreau
Price: $18.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doing what you love, loving what you do, June 29, 2014
This review is from: Chef (DVD)
Written and directed by Jon Favreau, who also stars in the title role, Chef is an amazing, thoroughly engaging film about doing what you love and loving what you do. To classify it as a small independent film feels completely at odds with the surprising number of top notch actors who show up in it and the superb craftsmanship it shows. It's more fitting to call it a labor of love that is also absolutely one of the best films to come out in 2014.

Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a Miami-born chef working in an up-scale restaurant in Los Angeles. He's been there for a number of years and his food is a success, and he's well-liked by everyone, from the hostess Molly (Scarlett Johansson) to his assistants Tony (Bobby Canavale) and Martin (John Leguizamo) and the rest of the kitchen staff. But lately Carl's feeling like he's falling into a rut, serving the same fare over and over again simply because it's popular and keeps the customers coming in, which is all the owner, Riva (Dustin Hoffman) cares about. However a chance to prove himself again when a prestigious critic and blogger, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt) announces that he's going dine at his restaurant. Apparently Michel once reviewed him some years earlier and pronounced him as being one of the most exciting new chefs on the scene. Wanting to once again make an impression and exercise his creative side, Carl comes up with a completely new menu, to be introduced the night when Michel is supposed to be there. But Riva wants to play it safe and tells Carl to forget the new menu and serve the same old classics. When Carl protests, Riva shuts him down with a you-work-for-me serve-what-I-say-or-else and the old menu stands. As a result, Michel gives the restaurant an unfavorable review on his blog, disparaging Carl personally for his disappointment. Carl, who is completely tech un-savvy and has to be shown how to read the blog, responds in what he thinks is an email, daring Michel to come again and try his completely new menu, not realizing that his response is going out to everyone following Michel's blog. Michel accepts the challenge, which goes viral and the night of his visit the restaurant is packed. But once again Riva shuts Carl down and insists on the same old menu being served. Frustrated, Carl storms out, taking the makings of his new menu with him and then preparing the dishes at home. When Michel arrives at the restaurant and ends up being served exactly the same menu he panned the last time around, he stares at the food in utter disbelief (Platt's expressions in this scene are priceless). When Carl hears that Michel is in the restaurant, he comes back in a fury and begins yelling at the critic in the restaurant in front of all the other customers (half of whom end up recording his rant and posting it on Youtube where it goes viral).

Out of work, Carl finds himself not only unemployed but unemployable due to the viral video of his rant. Carl's ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) invites him to come back to Miami for a while and he reluctantly returns there with her. But the return to his roots seems to help Carl relax and re-focus. It also gives him a chance to re-connect with Percy (EmJay Anthony), his son with Inez. Gradually he begins to consider an idea Inez pushes on him, to start over and do a food truck where he can be his own boss and serve whatever he wants. Inez's other ex-husband Marvin (Robert Downey Jr. in a fun role) offers to set him up with a food truck, and Carl accepts.

Warming to the project, Carl sets about restoring the broken-down food truck, first with help from Percy, who really wants nothing more than to spend time with his dad, and later from Martin who shows up out of the blue, having quit his job at the restaurant the moment he heard Carl was doing a food truck. The newly restored food truck is christened El Jefe, and serves Cubanos, a form of Cuban sandwich. After some initial try-outs in Miami, Carl decides to drive the food truck with Martin across the country, back to L.A., doing business all the way. With, as it turns out, Percy helping out as well after manipulating his dad into letting him come along. Which turns out to be a very good thing as tech-savvy Percy finds ways to promote the food truck on social media websites, spreading advance word of El Jefe so that crowds wanting to try their Cubanos just materialize in whatever town they show up.

The cast is excellent with solid performances all around. Jon Favreau (The Wolf of Wall Street, the Iron Man movies) is perfect as Carl, showing the difference passion makes in someone's life. John Leguizamo (Moulin Rouge, the Ice Age movies) gives fine supportive balance as Martin, the sous chef who decides to cast his lot with Carl precisely because Carl cares so much about what he does. Bobby Canavale (Blue Jasmine, Boardwalk Empire) provides a nice counterpoint as Tony, the assistant chef torn between being loyal to Carl and his shot at moving up to be the restaurant's top chef when Carl leaves. Scarlett Johansson (The Avengers, Lost in Translation) brings a nice bit of sweetness to Molly, the restaurant hostess who understands Carl's desire to serve something new. Veteran actor Dustin Hoffman (do you really not know who he is?) does a deft turn as Riva, the restaurant owner who demands that Carl stick to what's safe. And Oliver Platt (The Big C, Pieces of April) is perfect as blogger/critic Ramsay Michel whose devastating review serves as the spark that sends Carl out in a new direction, and who later brings things full circle once again in a nicely done plot turn near the end.

Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) is charmingly effective as Inez, the woman who clearly knows her ex-husband better than he knows himself. EmJay Anthony (Rake) is superbly engaging as Percy, hitting exactly the tone needed as a kid who wants to be with his dad but who's also savvy about navigating the tricky seas between divorced parents. Real-life Afro-Cubano salsero Jose "Perico" Hernández lends an authentic feel to the Miami scenes as Inez's musician father, Abuelito. Robert Downey Jr. clearly is having some fun as Marvin, Inez's first husband, who sincerely wants to be helpful but at the same time can't resist the opportunity to needle Inez's second ex-husband Carl a bit. And Amy Sedaris (Alpha House, Strangers with Candy) has some fun playing it straight as Jen, Carl's sympathetic publicist.

But what really makes Chef work is the enormous amount of heart it has, showing us what it means to be doing what you love and to love what you do. Watching Carl come alive again, finding enthusiasm and drive for each new day and each new stop on the way, is pure joy. As is watching him re-connect with Percy, reminding us that a lot of being a dad means simply spending time with your son, and that what you do isn't as important to a kid as is the fact that you share it with him. The scenes where Carl buys Percy his first chef's knife, where Percy rebels at having to clean out a filthy grease trap, and where Carl takes the time to explain to Percy the importance of doing things the right way and why it matters, are some of the best in the film, as are the scenes where Percy in turn shows his dad just what can be accomplished with a grasp of how social media works.

And of course a lot of the film is devoted to food, its preparation and its enjoyment, and how for some people, like Carl, food is a passion, the thing that gives life meaning. On a side note, you might want to stay through the end-credits where they have clips of real-life food truck chef Roy Choi, who trained Favreau for his role, showing Favreau how the food preparation scenes should look to be authentic.

Seriously, do whatever it takes to see this movie. It's worth every dollar and every minute, and it'll stay with you for a long time after you've watched it.

Highly, highly recommended.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 4, 2014 5:44 AM PDT

Carter Beats the Devil
Carter Beats the Devil
by Glen David Gold
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.99
221 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting & well researched, but falls short of engaging, June 28, 2014
This review is from: Carter Beats the Devil (Paperback)
Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil is something of a mixed bag. It resembles the kind of story E.L. Doctorow might tell, a period piece filled where the characters and background are based on real-life people and events. And it is clear that Gold did his research quite thoroughly, on everything from stage magic and magicians and the secret service to 1920's California and the invention of television. The attention to details are what make Carter Beats the Devil an interesting read. But that said, I never really felt fully engaged by the novel, and after a certain point I found that I was increasingly having to push myself to keep reading.

The story begins with Charles Carter, a world-renowned stage magician of the early 1920's known as Carter the Great. President Warren G. Harding, beset by a number of scandals involving his administration as well as his private life, has just died under mysterious circumstances and suspicion has fallen on Carter as the President's last public appearance was at a performance of Carter's stage show, at which he was reported to have had a private conversation with Carter, a conversation that a lot of people seem keenly interested in, involving "a great and terrible secret".

The novel then goes into an extensive series of flashbacks, showing us Carter as a child and how he became drawn to magic, how his early career evolved, taking us through his trials, triumphs and tragedies until we're back in the present day of the story. Along the way we meet a number of famous historical personages of the time, from well known ones like Houdini and the Marx Brothers to others largely forgotten like Francis "Borax" Smith, the industrial tycoon and philanthropist, Colonel Edmund Starling, the head of the Secret Service, and Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television. Even some of the fictional characters are in fact based on real-life people. Mysterioso, Carter's stage magician rival and nemesis, was based almost entirely on real life magician Sigmund Neuberger, "The Great Lafayette", who though forgotten today was the highest paid magician of his time.

Though it was interesting to encounter both the real-life people portrayed in Carter Beats the Devil and to be immersed in the social and technological details of the time, I have to say that Gold failed in two key aspects of the novel. First and foremost was in his main character, Carter. On an emotional level, Carter comes across as surprisingly flat and passive, making almost every other character in the novel more interesting than he is. Not good for a novel's central character. But another problem is that all too often the reader - and the characters - are forced to accept premises that require large suspensions of disbelief because the plot demands it.

Recommended for people interested in the period and in the specific events mentioned, but not as a fully satisfying read by itself.

Price: $12.99

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully rendered Austen-esque historical romance, but far more fiction than actual fact, June 22, 2014
This review is from: Belle (Amazon Instant Video)
Directed by Amma Asante (A Way of Life) from a screenplay by Misan Sagay, Belle is a beautifully rendered historical romance, reminiscent of many Jane Austen romances of the period. The performances are first class, the cinematography and costumes are lush and detailed, the flow of the story well-paced and balanced between its romantic and historical elements, and the music adds wonderfully to the feel of the film. But that said, this is a film that should be considered more of an imaginative - and highly embellished - story than an accurate recounting of actual historical events.

The film begins with a young British naval officer, Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode), in Jamaica, apparently meeting a very young girl for the first time: his mixed-race daughter by an African woman with whom he'd had an affair. In short order he tells the girl that he's taking her to "the life you were born to have", which we quickly learn means taking her to England to be raised by his uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson), high-ranking members of the British aristocracy who have no children of their own but who are already raising another grand-niece of similar age named Elizabeth. The Mansfield's take the girl - whose full name is Dido Elizabeth Belle - into their home, opting to call her Dido since they already have an Elizabeth, raising the two cousins almost as if they were sisters. Almost, but not quite, as becomes apparent in the film that having a mixed-race member of the family presented certain social difficulties in Georgian English aristocratic society.

Time passes quickly and soon the girls are young women, coming of an age where they were expected to make their entry into society, the first step in fulfilling the role for women of the time: arranging for a suitable marriage to be made. Despite their status of being wards of the highly respected Lord Mansfield - who was also a judge in the highest court in the land, both women face certain challenges. For Dido (a superb Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the challenges are all too obvious - an illegitimate mixed-race woman hardly made for a suitable, let alone respectable, match in a society where purity of breeding was nearly an obsession. For Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon) the challenge was less controversial but no less daunting - having only a pittance of a dowry and no claim to lands or incomes, at a time when a woman's prospects for a suitable marriage were in direct proportion to the amount of wealth she brought with her.

Dido has long been aware of her unusual status within the Mansfield household - too high to eat with the servants but not high enough to eat with any guests the Mansfields might have. Her entry into British society only accentuates the differences between her and everyone else. As one prospective match observes, "One does not make a wife of the exotic." However in a turn of irony, Dido's prospects for marriage are actually higher than Elizabeth's because Dido's father left her an inheritance and an income, and she quickly learns that some gentlemen's need for money can overcome their qualms about her skin and racial heritage. But at least one young man - John Davinier (Sam Reid), a vicar's son aspiring to be a lawyer - sees Dido for her other qualities, including her intelligence and beauty. And it is from him that she learns of Lord Mansfield's upcoming role as judge in a highly followed court case resulting from the drowning of 142 slaves - men, women and children - by the captain and crew of the slave ship Zong, all news of which had been kept carefully away from her. All of these things cause Dido to start questioning the state of the society in which she finds herself, and what her role in that society should be.

The historical elements that underpin the story are centered around two things. The first is a famous 1779 painting, the first of its kind, showing Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray portrayed as equals at a time when black or mulatto images in art were always portrayed as lesser and largely ornamental figures in art. The second was the infamous Zong Massacre of 1781 and the subsequent court decision of 1783 that dealt with the legal issues resulting from it. Beyond that though, most of the events of the film amount to fiction, with the writers pretty much making up most of the details where nothing is actually known and then changing others that were known just to fit the story's narrative.

Highly recommended as a romantic and period film that highlights the social and legal issues of the time, with the caution that it should not be taken as actual history.

Macks Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs Value Pack, 6 Count
Macks Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs Value Pack, 6 Count
Price: $3.96
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fairly effective and simple to use earplugs, June 21, 2014
I've been using these earplugs for several weeks now and they're definitely better than other ones I've tried. I got them after I was complaining to a friend about my wife's snoring keeping me awake and he told me about his experience with this particular type of earplug. They're not perfect (my wife is a grizzly-class snorer) but they do manage to substantially block out most of the sound most of the time. They're soft and moldable silicone and it's kind of like sealing up your ears with putty, which is why they're more effective than the kind that aren't moldable, but they stay intact, are easy to put in and easy to take out again. The instructions say that one pair is good for five days (or nights as the case may be) but my experience with them is that they can get you through a whole week though they're noticeably less adhering the last night or two. Anyway, I definitely recommend them for anyone who's having trouble sleeping because of noise that's keeping them awake.

Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Almond Cookie,8 Ounce
Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Almond Cookie,8 Ounce

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good sugar-free cookie at a reasonable price, June 21, 2014
As a diabetic, I have to be concerned about things that will raise my blood sugar, and Susan's Sugar Free Oats & Almond Cookies have proven to be a good choice in that regard. I have been eating them for a couple of months now and they never seem to cause my blood sugar to go up. Equally importantly, they're actually a good cookie, tasty with just enough sweetness from maltitol, and not brittle or too dry like a lot of other sugar-free cookies I've tried. And they're also fairly inexpensive, which is a plus. I order them every month now through Amazon's Subscribe & Save program, which is really worth checking out if you're not familiar with it. I can't comment on the vegan aspects, not being one myself, but definitely recommended for anyone who has to be concerned about blood sugar issues.

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